Encore/ST G4, by Sonnet Technologies
Posted: 3-Sep-2003

5 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Sonnet Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Robert Zimmerman Class: HARDWARE

The scenario
Sitting on the desktop is a perfectly serviceable PowerMac G4 Sawtooth running at 400 MHz. When new, it seemed incredibly fast, particularly compared to the 68040 machine it replaced. But after nearly four years of ownership, it is beginning to become long in the tooth, particularly when running OS X. A new machine would break the budget. What to do?

The Answer
Upgrade the processor - that's what to do. Prices have been falling, and Sonnet Technologies Encore/ST G4 running at 1.2 GHz is available for under $450 at this writing. A couple of clicks in Safari and a processor card is on the way to my door.

Encore/ST G4

Vendor:
Sonnet
Commercial $438


Preparation

While waiting for delivery, I checked the Sonnet website at
http://sonnetttech.com and found they had an installation manual and an addendum. The installation manual said to make sure that you are running the latest firmware update (4.28), and tells you how to check. I was running 4.28, so I went to the addendum, where I was warned that some systems may give incorrect speed indications in the System Profiler while running Jaguar. The solution was to install a couple of kext files, available in an installer from Sonnet. I downloaded the installer, but did not run it, preferring to see if it would be necessary.

Installation
The processor arrived with paper copies of the PDF files I had downloaded. The process of swapping was incredibly simple. Shut down the computer and let it cool. Open it up, ground yourself, and unplug the power cord. Remove the heat sink and old processor as in this figure:



Remove the protective cover from the processor connector on the new card and place it on the old processor for protection. Put the old processor into the anti-static bag for safekeeping, then insert the new processor onto the motherboard:



Place the Heat Sink onto the new processor:



Thats it! Close up the G4, plug the power back in and power it up.

Impressions

The difference manifests itself immediately in faster start-ups. No, it wasn't three times faster starting up, but it was nearly 25% faster. Not bad, considering that I didn't change hard drives, memory, or buses. In OS X, the finder is best described as "snappy". The processor loafs along for most tasks - where the 400 MHz processor was running at 100% during such tasks as encoding a song in iTunes or preparing a CD for burning, the Encore/ST runs at 25-40%. I have a Radeon 8500 video card in my Sawtooth, and was only seeing Visualizer frame rates of 15-17 frames per second before. Now they are 45-50 fps, so I am truly seeing triple performance in what are primarily processor intensive tasks.

Summary

What's not to like about this upgrade? It is hard to find anything negative about it. Some web sites fault Sonnet for not giving the option of over-clocking, and dislike the fact that it reuses the heat sink rather than supplying a new fan-augmented one like Gigadesigns does. But the reports on other processor companies complained of defective hardware, hard to decipher jumper settings, and difficult installation. Sonnet's solution is truly plug and play.

Pros

  • Easy Installation
  • No Jumpers
  • Noticeble Speed Jump
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • None

Overall Rating

5 out of 5 Mice